(Special thanks to John Moskitos who wrote this article)
Forty-two years after his death, Jimi Hendrix is still present in our environment. The symbol of the hippie generation he represents, the advanced techniques he brought to the music, his style are some clues of his immortality. In this tribute to the left hand guitar player I will talk about the aspects of his life, his personal style and the reasons why he is such a symbol today.
Johnny Allen Hendrix was born in Seattle in 1942 from a Cherokee mother and an Afro-American father. His childhood was difficult: his mom was drinking a lot and died when he was 16; his father, who took part in the WWII, saw him for the first time at the age of 3. At ten he got the chance to see Elvis Presley and Little Richard in concerts. His first guitar was actually a broom, before being replaced by a ukulele. He listened to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters and started to play with an electric guitar around fifteen.
In 1961, he took part in the war in Viet Nam among the paratroopers. There, he is taken as a bit crazy as he was used to sleep with his guitar. He stayed one year before being discharged.
Back to the US, he played as Jimmy James. In 1966, Chas Chandler (a musician from the Animals) sees him while Jimmy was playing in a bar in Greenwich Village (New York). Chandler is impressed by his skills on the guitar and proposes to bring Jimmy to UK.
In London, Chandler adds Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Noel Redding (bass guitar) to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
They came together in the US to play in Monterey Festival (1967). In their performance, Jimi plays in a suggestive way before igniting his guitar with alcohol and a match. That pushed Jimmy toward the front of the stage.
In 1969, Jimi, on the pinnacle of fame plays at Woodstock (the best rock festival ever). He performs the Star Spangled Banner, including sounds of the Viet Nam war on his guitar.
In 1970, Jimi is more and more addicted to drugs. His death comes during his last tour in Europe; he makes an overdose of sedatives in his hotel in London.
“He was definitely the sexiest man that’s walked the planet.” Neneh Cherry
Jimi Hendrix is famous as being a hippie and wearing strange clothes. Let’s be a little more precise:
Jimmy James plays in different groups around the US. He started wearing moustache since 1964. His clothing style was not influenced by the hippie wave yet. You can see him with shirts and suits, but not the colorful guy as we know him now.
1966: The swinging London influence.
Jimi, brought by Chas Chandler arrives in the swinging London. At that time, London was the place to be, cool girls started to wear short skirts there. Among the different new trends, cool guys would go in second hand shops to dress up in a “Sergeant Pepper” style. Commonly you would have: colorful military uniforms from the past century (Edward VII reign), with frog, doublet and feathers.
Recurrent items :
Sgt Pepper suits, afro hairstyle, jewellery.
1967: The summer of Love
The group arrives in US then in a hippie wave. Jimi made a real color revolution by starting to wear this kind of clothing.
Recurrent items :
Colorful clothes, waistcoat, shirts with jabot collar.
1968: Electric lady land. The dress shirts.
In 1968, Jimi starts to wear his black hat. But his dress shirts are more noticeable. Still colorful, Jimi wears flowers, psychedelic patterns.
Recurrent items :
Westerner hat: black hat, usually with a puggaree made of metal rings around the crown.
Dress shirts with colorful patterns.
1969: The Native American style.
Being a half Cherokee, Jimi wears Indian clothes.
The headband is a symbol of the hippie. Women were wearing braided leather ones. The one of Jimi was made of cloth, usually red. The one he wears in Woodstock pop festival is unmissable.
Recurrent items :
Leather jacket with fringes.
Bell-bottoms (trousers with sleeves which go larger from the knees to the feet).
Some clues to help understand why he became the symbol he is now.
He is the greatest guitarist of all time:
- He is like a meteor – from October 1966 to his death he played more than 500 concerts.
- His guitar abilities make him part of the guitar heroes
- He is one of the contributors to popularizing the blues among white people.
- He plays on a right hand guitar while being a left hand man.
- He popularized playing guitar with teeth.
- He used new equipment in order to create crazy sound (distortion, reverb, wah-wah pedal…)
Let’s be frank, at that time the racism against black people was still very present in the US (KKK, Martin Luther King, Black panthers, Laura Parks…) and around the world (wars of decolonization, apartheid…). The revolutions of the late sixties left their mark on the history. The fact that Jimi played with white people (Jimi Hendrix Experience group) and his arrival in a hippie context helped him to reach success in the US (1967).
With his cover of the American anthem, he is often considered as a symbol of the opposition against war.
The late sixties were a golden age for drugs and sex revolution on the West. His drugs addiction (LSD, cannabis, alcohol) put him several time behind the bars. Many girls claimed to have had sex with him; his suggestive way of playing guitar and the mold of his love instrument help this notoriety.
He is part of the “27 club”.
Although he died from sedative tranquilizer overdose, the legend of a suicide is still repeated.
Here we are, I hope I gave you the envy to listen a bit to his songs.
“ ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” Jimi Hendrix